The Devils needed two points tonight. There was no other option, they were falling out of the playoff race rapidly and had tough opponents like Ottawa and Dallas coming up.
They got just what the doctor ordered with a late comeback against the Carolina Hurricanes, giving them their two points with a much needed victory.
Going into the game, coach John Hynes said that the team is “in a state of mediocrity” and decided to shake up the entire lineup. Forward lines were shuffled up and down and defensive pairings were shifted. In addition, Bobby Farnham was back in the lineup off of injured reserve and Patrik Elias was placed on injured reserved today. Farnham was placed on the fourth line, energy unit with Stephen Gionta and Jordin Tootoo.
Healthy scratches for New Jersey in their final home game of the 2015 calendar year were Eric Gelinas, Jacob Josefson and Tuomo Ruutu.
With back-to-back games coming (the Devils travel to Ottawa after this game for tomorrow’s tilt), Keith Kinkaid made the start for New Jersey. He would make 26 saves on 28 shots. Facing him across the rink was Carolina’s workhorse Cam Ward. He was equal to 21 of 24 shots faced.
This was a tight one early, as there was no scoring in the first period. Of the three penalties called in the game, two came in the first (a Ron Hainsey holding call on the Hurricanes and a Jordin Tootoo hooking call for the Devils). The other penalty was a Carolina penalty (John-Michael Liles for interference) in the second period. Neither team scored on the power play (New Jersey 0-for-2, Carolina 0-for-1).
The first goal of the game came from Eric Staal at 2:52 of the second, off assists from Kris Versteeg and Elias Lindholm.
Although Carolina had the 1-0 lead, it did not take long for the Devils to equal it. Bobby Farnham, back in the lineup, used his energy to tie the game. The goal came with Tootoo providing a strong forecheck, keeping the puck in the ‘Canes’ zone behind Ward’s net. Farnham picked up the puck and jammed it near side at 6:06, unassisted.
The teams would not go into the first intermission tied, though, as at 9:46 of the second, Eric Staal netted his second of two on the night when he and Versteeg connected again, 2-1 Hurricanes. A little under five minutes later, though, the Devils nearly tied it again. They had seemingly tied it when the whistle was blown with the net off its moorings.
The Hurricanes continued to respond, right after the first Devils’ goal, Carolina’s Jordan Staal hit the post on a rush, nearly giving the ‘Canes a 3-1 lead.
The Devils had their chances, though. On their lone power play of the second period, which was drawn by Farnham, Sergey Kalinin inadvertently blocked a Damon Severson one-timer in front of Ward. The Devils would go into the third period down a goal.
But the Devils have been a good third period team this year and they responded big time. At 7:14, Travis Zajac, with the puck deep in the Hurricanes’ zone, sent it back to Jon Merrill at the right point. He fired the puck on net, where it was tipped in by Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri had his team-leading 16th goal of the year and the game was all tied up at two.
That goal was challenged by the Hurricanes’ bench, as they charged goalie interference on Palmieri. On the review, it was a clean goal and Carolina lost their timeout (which would be crucial late in the game, when they could not get anything set with Cam Ward pulled, trying to tie the game).
The Devils game winner came off the stick of David Schlemko, who fired from an odd angle, through the legs of the Hurricanes defenseman and cleanly beat Ward to give the Devils a 3-2 lead at 16:55 of the third.
The Hurricanes pulled Cam Ward late and were able to apply pressure, but Kinkaid and the Devils fended them off. The Devils did not use their timeout late, as it would have given the Hurricanes a chance to get their bearings. The Devils, being the home team, were able to get the late changes and did not have to worry about that. Carolina took the chance on trying to challenge the Devils’ second goal and it came back to bite them.
With the Devils victory over their Metro Division rivals, they pulled back into the playoff race and are now only three points behind the idle Rangers for third place in the Metropolitan Division.
Next up, they go north of the border to the Canadian capital. Both the Devils and the Senators will be playing the second games of back-to-backs (the Senators had the Bruins tonight in Beantown – they lost 7-3). Can they build on this win and put together a winning streak for the first time since November? We will find out tomorrow.